Mark Watches ‘Angel’: S03E01 – Heartthrob

In the first episode of the third season of Angel, Angel returns to Los Angeles after spending the summer mourning his lost love. When he does, though, he finds himself face-to-face with someone else who just lost the love of their life. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.

The more I think about it, the happier I am that I chose to watch Angel and Buffy concurrently. I know that I won’t have many chances in the future to watch two shows at the same time that will have this same symmetry, but as I was updating the Master Schedule a week or so ago, I knew that I wanted to continue doing two shows at once. I love switching between narratives. I love the accidental and intentional parallels. I love the poetry between two fictional stories that might have nothing to do with one another. It has made writing Mark Watches so much fun that I am now thinking of how to pull off the same thing on Mark Reads, as well as trying to figure out the most interesting show to watch concurrently with The West Wing when I get there in March of 2013.

Well, assuming the world doesn’t end the previous December, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

I know that Angel’s viewing/airing order is quite jumbled with Buffy from here on out, so it’s entirely possible that Buffy was the intended show to premiere first after season five. Regardless of that, after the horrifying and gut-wrenching end to “The Gift,” I am incredibly thankful that the Buffyverse opens with this episode of Angel. I don’t know that I could have returned to Sunnydale so soon. After Buffy‘s fifth season largely dealt with death, it’s fitting that Angel opens with three separate characters learning to cope. Where else could you find that sort of symmetry? Again, intentional or not, I sort of don’t care. It is satisfying to experience, and I really do like to separate the external factors of producing a television show when I’m trying to immerse myself in a fictional world.

And the world that David Greenwalt and Joss Whedon have built on this show is just fascinating. When it comes down to it, “Heartthrob” revolves around three characters dealing with trauma in their life.

Cordelia Chase

I can’t. I just can’t deal with how much I love Cordelia. The writers repeatedly refuse to take the easy way out with her, and it has made her the most satisfying character in the Buffyverse. I knew that it was inevitable that we’d have to see her trying to deal with her visions. I made that prediction because it was an easy one. Hey, I have to try and get some right! But what we see from Cordelia in this episode is the increasing pain and sadness she goes through in order to bear her supernatural burden. After she has a vision that sends Gunn, Wesley, and Angel after a group of vampires, we watch her do what she can to comfort herself in the wake of a painful experience. More so than ever before, we see just how physical this is becoming. Also, Dennis is the best ever. RIGHT?

What’s so spectacular about this character is how much she’s become this empathetic, loving force on the show. The writers and Charisma Carpenter have managed to do this without changing that this is Cordelia. If you watch her confrontation with Angel about Buffy in the second half of the episode, you can see all the typical signs that Cordelia Chase is trying to get Angel to open up about his feelings. Yet she’s still doing it in a way that’s more honest and caring than ever before. (I’d actually say that all four of the main characters are very subtly different in this premiere, actually, and it’s one of the strengths of the episode.)

God, what’s going to happen to Cordelia? I am so worried about her visions. PLEASE DON’T MAKE HER SUFFER MORE. Who am I kidding? What show am I watching? Sigh.

Fred

Oh, I am just so happy that Fred is here. Amy Acker, how do you act? I think I wouldn’t have believed her characterization had the writers not acknowledged that the trauma she went through caused her current paranoia and fear. If Fred had come back to Los Angeles and just been fine, I would have called bullshit. Even her attachment to Angel makes sense. It’s not so much that he saved her from her fate on Pylea as much as it’s about the fact that he is the first being to treat her with kindness and respect. So it didn’t feel dismissive to me to learn that she had stayed within her room for the three months Angel was gone grieving Buffy. As Cordelia put it, she traded one cave for another. The world she was born in isn’t the same one she came back to, and she feels lost and fractured. Ugh, my heart was ready to shatter when Fred said she was waiting for the “click in my head when everything makes sense.” Fred, my god, I can’t even fathom what this experience was like for you.

So I do want to start off by saying that I appreciate how they’re not speeding up Fred’s assimilation. It wouldn’t be fair. That being said: I don’t want to see this last the entirety of season three. I mean, I’m saying that with the assumption that there’s not much the writers could do with that, but I could certainly be way off base. I just want to see more of Fred than what she is now, and I hope this show gives it to me.

Angel

I’ll be honest: until James’s monologue on the Metro train (which, for the record, was the cleanest Metro compartment in the history of the Red Line), I wasn’t exactly sure why the third season was opening with this story. I wanted to see more of Fred, more of Cordelia, and more acknowledgment from Angel that the love of his life was dead. In a way, though, that was the whole point. When Angel came back to the office, he was so clearly different. He smiled with ease. He gave hugs when he usually would offer up a handshake or a nod. He brought his friends gifts. Angel got gifts! When has that ever happened? EVER?

But this joy of mine wore off. He seemed so serene throughout “Heartthrob,” eager to return to work and slay some vampires. Dude, Buffy just died, y’all. She just died. Was this his somber, emotionless side we were seeing again? In that sense, I felt slightly underwhelmed by most of the story until Cordelia finally approached Angel about Buffy’s death. Intentional or not, I began to realize that I was coming at Angel’s characterization all wrong. This was confirmed outright by James’s monologue not long after this. Angel had grieved for Buffy, but he wasn’t destroyed. His life was not over. In fact, he was able to cope with his loss and move on. It’s a terrifying thing to realize, and I remember going through a similar experience when I felt like I’d moved on from my father’s death within six months of him leaving us. Was I broken? How come I wasn’t more fucked up by his death?

Angel asks him the same thing after James accuses him of not actually loving Buffy. How was he able to go on after she died? Consumed with guilt, James’s words hit him right in the feelings. Here’s a man who willingly agrees to a surgery that will kill him in six hours just so he can go out in a blaze of foolishness because he was in love. Nothing about it is smart, but that’s James’s point. Love isn’t smart or practical, and that’s why he can’t understand why Angel is so calm and serene after losing someone he supposedly loved.

So bless you, Cordelia Chase, for telling Angel what he needed to hear: he is not dishonoring Buffy by moving on. The heartbreaking parallel to Buffy’s last words is just painful. “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Live. For me.” By living, by being good, Angel is honoring Buffy’s entire life, doing exactly as she would have wanted.

Oh god, Buffy Summers is dead. HOW. HOW IS THAT GOING TO BE RESOLVED.

Darla

I was IMMENSELY EXCITED to see her in Angel’s flashback, which also contained perhaps David Boreanaz’s worst attempt at an accent ever. Again, it’s so bad that it’s kind of endearing? Anyway, it just made me miss her. She is such a fascinating and entertaining character, and I wondered what she’d been up to since leaving Los Angeles. So you can imagine my excitement when she popped on the screen, hiding out in a bar in Nicaragua. Turns out she is still the most fabulous vampire in the Buffyverse. SHE TOOK A LIME SLICE AFTER DRINKING FROM SOMEONE. God, I love her. She possesses this fierce sense of –

what. what. WHAT THE FUCK. WHAT THE FUCK. HOW IS SHE PREGNANT. CAN VAMPIRES EVEN BECOME PREGNANT? WHO DID SHE HAVE SEX WIT–

OH. OH MY GOD OH MY GOD ANGEL. OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!! 

H E L P

 

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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1 Response to Mark Watches ‘Angel’: S03E01 – Heartthrob

  1. Simone says:

    The reveal of Darla at the end of Heartthrob is still one of my favourite moments if television. It knocks you for a six,soo many thoughts and then the “Oh god” moment when you realize exactly what happened AND when.

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